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The real culprit behind TikTok censorship revealed

In 2023, Malaysia embarrassingly became world champion with 2,202 takedown requests made to TikTok.

Charles Hector
3 minute read

The recent revelation that the government has been violating Malaysians' freedom of expression by asking TikTok to remove posts and delete accounts is disturbing.

From July to December 2023, there were 1,862 requests from the government and for the whole of 2023, there were 2,202 such requests.

How many of these posts or accounts were ever investigated, charged in court, tried and convicted of criminal offences?

If there are none or only a few, then the government’s actions are deplorable, unjust and an abuse of power.

TikTok’s latest semi-annual report on government takedown requests from July 1 to Dec 31, 2023, released on June 6, 2024, reveals these anti-free speech activities by the Malaysian government. (See TikTok's report here).

During this period, 1,862 people whose posts were removed or accounts deleted and other TikTok users, estimated at about 20 million in Malaysia, were denied their rights.

Figures published in ByteDance's advertising resources show that TikTok had 28.68 million users aged 18 years and older in Malaysia at the beginning of 2024.

Were the people whose posts were deleted or whose accounts were closed even informed that the government was behind it and what the reasons were?

Were the victims of this infringement even given the right to be heard by the government before it asked TikTok to delete the users' content and accounts?

Did the government simply hide the fact that it was behind the censorship and deletion of TikTok accounts and posts?

Just like detention without trial, these censorship measures and account cancellations are arbitrary decisions by the executive, in this case the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim or others.

This is simply unjust and unacceptable in a democracy, especially for the so-called "reformist" Pakatan Harapan government under Anwar.

Censorship or deletion of accounts should never be done without a court order, whereby ex parte orders and restraining orders can be obtained quickly and the alleged lawbreaker also has the right and opportunity to challenge such orders in court.

It is best if our independent courts decide what is against the law and not the government or prime minister before ordering censorship.

The government should never censor or remove posts that are critical of its actions. Malaysia must always promote and defend freedom of expression, speech and the press.

Unfortunately, this government continues to apply draconian laws. The Sedition Act, for example, unjustly criminalises "seditious tendency", i.e. doing or saying something even though it is true or represents a valid opinion.

Were draconian laws such as the Sedition Act used to justify the government’s request to TikTok?

Without TikTok's statistics, many would have been led to believe that their rights had been violated by TikTok.

This is not true, as it turns out that TikTok merely complied with the Malaysian government's request.

What would the government do if TikTok did not obey?

In fact, the government should defend freedom of expression when TikTok and other platforms block posts and delete user accounts. Can Malaysians even rely on the government to take action against parties like TikTok and Facebook when they violate our freedom of expression?

A very important question is whether the victims of censored posts and blocked accounts will be informed by the government that it was the government’s doing and why their post/account was blocked.

Also, if a person is arrested, they are informed of the reason for the arrest.

From July to December 2023, there were 6,789 government requests worldwide – 1,862 of them from Malaysia. TikTok complied with 87.8% of these requests.

In 2023, Malaysia embarrassingly became the world champion with 2,202 requests to take down TikTok. This was 29 times more than  as many as in 2022, which had 75 requests.

TikTok should not be censoring at all and certainly not at the request of the government unless there is a valid court order and they should not blindly follow government requests based on laws allegedly being broken.

You can't hold a telecoms service provider responsible for what people say on the phone.

Similarly, TikTok and others should not be held responsible for what their users post.

In the same way, online media should not be blamed for the comments of their readers.

Were they charged and convicted after their  posts and accounts were deleted?

Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil needs to explain.

It is sad to note that the state of human rights has deteriorated since Anwar became prime minister in November 2022.

Recently, Malaysia ranked poorly in Reporters Without Borders' global press freedom index.

Now the government is violating the people's right to freedom of expression.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow